If you happened to be walking around Miami’s South Beach in recent weeks and you were attractive and young (but not under 21) and seemed like the type of person who might enjoy a late night on the town—which describes basically everyone in the area at any given moment—you might have found yourself approached by a group of “masked temptresses” dispatched by Anheuser-Busch InBev, and invited to play a friendly game of Truth or Dare.
Anyone who wimped out and chose “truth” blew it. Sorry.
Those who answered “dare,” however, were given a mysterious invitation (the beer equivalent of Willy Wonka’s golden ticket) to something called Oculto Manor. At the appointed hour, they’d arrive on a forbidding stretch of 22nd Street in Wynwood, a rapidly gentrifying warehouse zone. There, in a 33,000-square-foot event space, the world’s largest brewer was introducing its latest concoction, Oculto, with the help of the hip London-based ad agency Mother and members of the creative team behind New York’s much-buzzed-about interactive Shakespear-ience Sleep No More and their dinner-theater follow up, Queen of the Night.
Oculto, which is already available in select stores and bars, is a light, fruity lager. Beer snobs may scoff, but it’s not really for them. “It’s for nights out—high-energy experiences,” explains Harris Rabin, A-B InBev’s global vp of marketing for new brands. Having sampled numerous bottles of the stuff over the course of a recent high-energy weekend, I found it light and refreshing and all but irresistible on a warm night. With 6% alcohol, it also carries a kick. Oculto is brewed “on tequila staves,” which means that wood from tequila casks is somehow involved in its production (precisely what that means is a closely held secret), and it contains a nice hint of blue agave nectar along with a touch of citrus.
So to be clear: it does not actually contain tequila, which would taste weird. Instead, it’s infused with the essence of tequila. It’s the soul of tequila, in beer form. Or as Rabin puts it, “It’s about combining the social invitation of beer with the mystery and intrigue of the tequila world.”
Oculto features what must be the most elaborate packaging of any major beer. The bottle, with its Day of the Dead motif, is loaded with impressive design flourishes and easter eggs—what Rabin calls “discoverable elements”—that play on the the beer’s association with secrets (oculto means hidden in Spanish). There are messages printed behind the label and under the bottle cap, and if you hold the thing just right, you can see a pair of eyes staring through the eye sockets. Chill the bottle, and the irises turn turquoise blue.
If you set out to turn Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull into a beverage, this is what you'd get.
Oculto Manor, an immersive pop-up theater piece–slash–masked dance party, was designed to introduce the beer to its target audience of stylish, adventuresome twenty-somethings. At the gracious invitation of A-B InBev, I got the chance to experience the proceedings firsthand at the Manor’s closing night event on May 2, along with several hundred of those daring ticketholders. The girls wore bandage dresses and spiked heels; the guys jeans and dress shirts, unbuttoned. (I went with a bright white hoodie, which is now at the dry-cleaners.)
Upon entering the building, we were offered the first of many Ocultos and were faced with a choice of three mysterious doorways.
A group of us chose the door on the right—labeled “4 am”—and were ushered into a dark corridor, where a bellhop handed each of us a white plastic Venetian carnival mask, the kind you might encounter at one of those orgies in Davos.
From there, we were led into a series of meticulously art-directed rooms, each containing a different themed “experience.” It was fun and bewildering (in a good way), and my memory of it is a little hazy. I think the first station was a hotel room, in which I might or might not have taken a turn jumping on the bed.
Then there was a police station, where several of us were booked and posed for mug shots. Alas, there was no pat down, at least that I experienced.
Then there was a Vegas-style wedding chapel. After a bit of line dancing, we watched an elaborate fake wedding (I hope it was fake) and then danced to “Time After Time.” Everyone’s experience was different. A woman who popped into the confessional booth, for instance, later told me she'd met a man named "Uncle Frank," made confession, and been given a special key entitling her to a case of Oculto.
There was also a 1970s-era ranch-style house where an out of control rager was underway, complete with more bed-bouncing, a shelf full of old LPs, a mess of snacks, some board games, and a trashed kitchen.
I also recall a backstage dressing room for a Ziegfeld Follies–style revue, in which an attractive showgirl in an ostrich headdress and a leotard leaned close to whisper that she was so glad to see me "at our after-party” and then offered me another frosty Oculto. I considered inviting her back to the chapel to get married, but the night was still young.
There were other rooms too. An indoor swimming pool filled with balloons...
A travel agency throwing an after-hours work party....
There may have also been a bath house.
It was impressive, to say the least. And while wearing those masks felt a little silly—and a lot sweaty—it did nudge everyone out of their comfort zones, which was the primary goal. This was not the kind of party where you stand by the wall and check your phone. That is, unless you were desperate for information on the Pacquaio-Mayweather fight, which was happening the same night.
For the most part, people went nuts, dashing through the corridors in a giddy state of disorientation, and snapping selfies everywhere.
“There are twists and turns and there are things you are going to wind up doing that you didn’t expect, that wasn’t part of your plan,” Rabin explained during a break. “When you cross over that line and kind of go for it, that’s when things get interesting.”
In the final room, we encountered a stage with a DJ spinning, and lots more Oculto. Then the surprise guest, the brilliant Detroit rapper Danny Brown capped things off with an energetic set. Speaking of secrets being revealed, have you seen the tongue on this guy?
“We be smoking and drinking, drinking and smoking,” he rapped, and the crowd sang along, many of us properly buzzed off our asses.
Meanwhile, thousands of all-seeing turquoise eyeballs looked on, agleam. They, too, seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Photos by Aaron Gell